Monday, October 20, 2008

New York City, City Of Freedom

Today's typical "government knows best" editorial in the New York Times lauded the mandatory posting of nutritional information on restaurant menus because apparently most of us need to be smacked in the face with the knowledge of what we're eating. I say smacked in the face because the Times opposes a federal law on the subject which would preempt local and state legislation merely because the federal law would allow nutritional information to be posted on the backs of menus or on separate brochures. Hence my wording "smacked in the face."

Also interesting was the news I was unaware of- that New York City's Health Department has started a campaign posting advertising in subways stating that 2,000 Calories is Enough in an apparent effort to get New Yorkers to eat more responsibly. Personally, I think its an odd budget choice for a health department that only last year made national headlines when a number of restaurants in it's jurisdiction were literally found to be rat infested. But more importantly, I wonder when this nannyism will end.

I do have a question for the big government types who find this to be an appropriate sphere for the government and an appropriate use of taxpayer money. A what point is the government just butting it's nose into the private choices of private individuals? Would posters proclaiming "One Sex Partner is Enough" be appropriate? Just wondering.


Blogger McMc said...

Do you think it's a waste of money to "smack people in the face" with safe-sex posters or when safe-sex advocates hand out free condoms and brochures?

You see these laws and regulations as a step toward banning food (I don't consider banning trans-fats a ban on food) and what not, when in reality it's an effort to educate and allow people the freedom to make more informed decisions.

"2000 calories is enough" is the equivalent to "wrap it up", not "one partner is enough". Personal choice isn't being restricted, it's being embraced. And to get worked over a NYC subway station poster is just pointless. That's like getting worked up over a poster in a library that says "Read a book" or "Turn off the TV". Public service posters are lame and they just try to reinforce a positive message. Sometimes they seem to go against a person's individual choice, but doesn't mean they are butting in.

4:02 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I'd say specific numbers of calories has more in common with specific numbers of sexual partners. "Wrap it up" is more a general health message, sort of like "Eat right."

It rubs me the wrong way because just like the number of sexual partners you have, the number of calories you consume, is a choice directly related to your personal lifestyle. If you have a workout regime like Michael Phelps, then 12,000 calories a day might be good for you. For a petite woman who doesn't exercise regularly, 2,000 calories may be too many.

There's a difference between encouraging healthy behavior and being a nag and there's also a difference between the nagging of private organizations and the nagging that comes from the government.

4:15 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

And there's a difference between an Olympic medalist and an average citizen. People who are health conscious know what they need to take in and obviously a petite woman that doesn't need 2000 calories isn't going to see a sign that says 2000 is enough and say "oh, I need to get to 2000". 2000 is the recommended intake and it's not just some random number or some taboo. The point is, citing a specific number of calories is just a tactic to get people to think about what they are consuming, and it's not a bad idea to reinforce the recommended intake if more nutrional info is going to be out in the open. On the flip side, citing one sexual partner is a reinforcement of taboos and not a reminder. It's intended to hurt/insult. That's why I liken 2000 to Wrap it up...neither has a hurtful message, it's just a recommendation to what is safe/healthy. You could say "eat right" does the same, but that's a vague message.

I just really don't understand any of your hatred to some of these laws. The only conclusion I can ever draw is that you feel we're heading for a ban on fatty foods when we're not. I see this whole thing as a beacon of personal choice. People are saying we want to know what's in our food, what we are consuming. You seem to see it as a way to bring down fast food companies and dining out. The more information available, the better choices people can/will make.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

It's not about the merits of a trans-fats ban, 2,000 calories or anything else to do with this specific issue for me.

It's that I don't want my tax dollars being taken from me and spent arbitrarily. Spend my money on police, infrastructure, whatever. Don't have me financing ads that tell me how to act.

Plus, I don't think anyone wants our current batch of elected officials lecturing us on anything.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Shreck said...

I don't know how much personal choice is being embraced by telling people to stick to 2000 calories. If someone weighs 200 pounds and decides they want to lift weights and do cardio workouts a few times a week you'd need as many as 2600 calories to maintain where you are at (not to mention if you planned on building muscle you would need even more). Nothing about telling people to stick to eating 2000 calories in a day is informing or educating. If you punch my specific size and workout information into a daily calorie intake calculator it would tell you that 2000 calories a day would be for "extreme fat loss". To put things in perspective, 2000 calories is about the amount a male who is 5'6" and weighs 150 pounds who doesn't exercise would need to maintain his body weight. Still think blindly telling people to stick to 2000 calories a day is an informative message that embraces personal choice?

Rose hit the nail on the head that this is the last sort of thing we need our tax dollars doing to.

3:36 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

It's a really good point that I didn't bring up and that's the real scientific inaccuracy of the 2,000 calories recommendation.

In the end, as both Shreck and Rose have said, the real issue is whether or not this is something we need/want government doing.

And McMc, to specifically respond to your earlier point, the New York Times has demonstrated they're not about choice as much as they're about trying to influence people's decisions as much as possible without actually taking away choice. Here's the relevant quote from their editorial:

"Try getting a teenager aching for a supersized pizza to check calories in a brochure."

In other words, it's not enough that fast food chains just have this information available for those who want to see it, it's that this information needs to be placed so people have to see it, whether they want to or not. It's not the equivalent of nutritional labeling on prepackaged foods, it's the equivalent of not being allowed to leave the supermarket without seeing the calorie counts of everything you're buying. And it's precisely what I mean by the slippery slope and by going too far.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

Aside from the stupidity of using tax dollars on nannying as you put it...

does anyone believe calorie counting is an effective way to maintain a healthy weight/diet? Most people I know who have bulked up, or shed pounds effectively didn't need a pad of paper and pen at the ready to record caloric intake. So aside from questioning how appropriate the intent is, I'd also question how effective this campaign actually is.

9:31 PM  

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